Thoughts on Lawrence Levine

Submitted January 22, 2007, 2:24 PM

Leon Wofsy
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LARRY LEVINE Lawrence Levine Memorial, UC Berkeley, January 21, 2007 Larry and I met and became friends at Berkeley in 1964. In a normal academic year, that probably would not have happened. I’m not a historian and, even though we both went to CCNY, I was older than Larry and we didn’t overlap. But 1964 was not an ordinary year, and the usual barriers that kept faculty and students apart in separate disciplines came tumbling down. There is a seamless connection between the Larry I first saw in 1964 and the Larry we said goodbye to in 2006. Over those 42 years, there was so much history, so many surprises that changed us all. Some hope and optimism faded along the way. People drawn together in the turbulent enthusiasm of the 60s moved in diverse directions. It might be hard to recognize a youthful idealist in today’s careful liberal politician, or a once ‘more radical than thou’ rebel in today’s spiritual progressive. But when I sat down with Larry in his final months, with me was the brave spirit, the unmistakable integrity and decency of the newcomer who rattled the austerity of a still oblivious Academic Senate on the 23rd of November, 1964. It was Larry who chose — rather, was chosen — to make the first attempt to put the faculty on record in support of the student free speech demands. Reggie Zelnik wrote: “I cannot overemphasize how intimidating from our perspective the Senate atmosphere was on that day, how difficult it was then to speak up in the face of 525 (mainly senior) faculty members, at least half of them very impatient with our challenge… and there can be little doubt about the presence among untenured faculty, both then and later, of fear for one’s job security.” There was an uncommon harmony in Larry’s life. His intellectual and cultural contributions, his personal values, his causes, and his friendships all fit together — so, too, his marriage and wonderful partnership with Cornelia. Larry, who shined a light on Black folk culture, who championed multiculturalism against Allan Bloom’s closed mind, who won recognition as a major American intellectual, also was arrested for protesting UC’s apartheid investments. As a young man, he joined the historic civil rights trek from Selma to Montgomery. He marched again against the Vietnam War and, with Cornelia, again and again against the invasion of Iraq. For Roz and me, some of our warmest Berkeley moments were together times, all too few, with Larry and Cornelia. For some years we shared a Saturday opera night, and intermission banter was anticipated almost as eagerly as the show. Sometimes a visit, a meal together, an unplanned encounter left lasting images: talking and walking together along the route of an anti-war march in San Francisco, being captivated by the Mozart violin sonatas one evening in the Levine home, sharing impressions during Larry’s last months of Barack Obama’s “Dreams of My Father”. And there was the awful day of disbelief and tears when Larry phoned on the morning of Reggie’s tragic accident. The compassion and support that Larry and Cornelia gave to grieving friends was unbounded, and we, too, felt their love when our daughter Carla died. In my fondest memories of eventful times on campus, Larry and Reggie are always together. I was drawn to them from the beginning. They were Berkeley’s finest. It’s so hard to say goodbye. Leon Wofsy Professor Emeritus Molecular and Cell Biology/Immunology UC Berkeley

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